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Ministers from Belfast and Dublin to meet to discuss Covid-19 and Brexit

By Michael McHugh, PA

The first summit of the North South Ministerial Council (NSMC) since before Northern Ireland’s powersharing administration collapsed is under way.

Taoiseach Micheal Martin and members of his Cabinet are meeting First Minister Arlene Foster and Deputy First Minister Michelle O’Neill and their colleagues for talks on Covid-19 and Brexit at Dublin Castle.

It allows the new Irish Government and the restored Northern Ireland Executive to converse formally for the first time and exchange views on issues of mutual interest and concern.

This is the first plenary session since November 2016 of a body set up under the Good Friday Agreement to deepen co-operation across the island.

The Taoiseach said: “I will also take the opportunity to emphasise the Government’s full support for preserving and strengthening North-South co-operation and the Government’s commitment to ensuring that the New Decade, New Approach Agreement is implemented in full.

“The Government is focused on working with the Executive through the North South Ministerial Council to deliver projects that benefit people across the island, including greater connectivity between North and South, investing in the North West region and in border communities, and supporting reconciliation as an integral part of the peace process.”

Ms Foster is expected to share a platform with the Deputy First Minister in a post-meeting press conference for the first time since a row soured relations between the pair.

Ms O’Neill’s attendance at a veteran republican’s funeral in west Belfast despite restrictions on numbers due to coronavirus regulations has angered unionists.

Police are investigating possible breaches of social distancing rules by mourners as Bobby Storey’s cortege was passed through west Belfast.

Ms O’Neill has stood by her decision to go to the service but did say sorry to families bereaved during lockdown for any hurt caused by scenes of hundreds of people lining the route.

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